Gold Star families searching for answers after loved ones' names not engraved on memorial as promised

Several Gold Star families in the Valley are trying to get to the bottom of a very delayed process. These families paid extra for the personalized gold star license plates with the promise that their money will be going toward memorializing their loved one, but that hasn't happened. 

The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza sits in front of the Arizona State Capitol. It's one of the points of pride in Phoenix. The park is decorated with dozens of memorials to honor and remember the fallen. 

"So we can remember, these men and women gave their lives for our country and for the freedoms that we have, they self-sacrificed, what more can we do for our country," said Julie Martin, Gold Star mom. 

Julie Martin knows the sacrifice all too well. Her son Wyatt Martin, who was a combat engineer with the Army, was killed during a route clearance in Afghanistan on December 12, 2014.

"His first deployment was in Afghanistan and he was killed 6 months into it," said Martin. "He was one of the last soldiers killed in Operation Enduring Freedom."   

Wyatt had dreams of becoming a game and fish officer. He was just 22-years-old. 

"It changed our lives, but he just took on a different role in our lives now," says Martin. "Now he's in heaven watching down on us, really taking care of us from there."   

You may have seen Gold Star Family specialized license plates. They're for families like Martin's. These families pay extra money per year to have the plate. 

"You don't have very many ways to share your children once they're gone, once they've passed on you don't get to talk to them about when they're getting married, or if they're having children or if they're doing these cool amazing things like graduating from college," said Martin. "You don't get to share those things anymore so one thing we can do to show them, honor them and memorialize them is with the license plate."    

Martin was told the extra funds will go towards engraving her son's name on the Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial. Months went by and then years and her son's name still isn't there.

The names of other fallen soldiers are also missing from the memorial. The last names to be added were those soldiers who lost their lives in 2011.

Vicki Dryer's son John Corey Johnson is among those. He died on May 27, 2011. 

"He was only in the Army a little over a year," said Vicki Dryer, Gold Star mom. "It was during his first deployment to Afghanistan. He was killed in action about two months into his deployment."  

Dryer attended the dedication of the memorial in 2012. She never thought from that day forward the memorial would sit blank. 

"In the military, there's a saying, no man left behind, and I believe that the only way we honor our children is to embrace the ideals that they embraced and no family left behind," says Dryer. 

"They never die as long as we speak their name and that is true and this is one way we can speak their name," said Dan Eckstein, a Vietnam veteran. "This is a place where not only Gold Star but their comrades can come and remember them."      

Vietnam veteran San Eckstein took notice. He joined with the families to get to the bottom of the issue. He's been working to get answers for about a year now. 

Representative Kelly Townsend is also involved.

"I'm just grateful that my constituent Dan Eckstein brought this forward and brought it to my attention because prior to that I didn't realize the state that this was in," said Representative Kelly Townsend. "As a veteran myself, it's unacceptable and we really need to step up and get this thing taken care of, which is what we're doing now."         

So far, what they know is someone dropped the ball. The group is now talking with the state to find out who's responsible and where the funding will come from to complete the monument.

"We have to get the rest of the names on here and then we either have to come up with an independent panel that is offset from the main memorial, which most of us are not in favor of, but it's a possibility," said Eckstein. "The idea that everyone seems to like is just replacing this panel with a blank one so we can get 2012, 2013, 2014 on here."

Eckstein and Townsend say they won't stop until all the names of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are etched in history. 

"I'll suffer what I suffered 100 times to see the respect they get today so it's all good," said Eckstein.